You’re in the back of the plane, you see the left engine catch on fire; the pilots mistakenly shut down the right and . . .

what do you do?

“We were thinking: ‘Why is he doing that?’ because we saw flame coming out of the left engine. But I was only a bread man. What did I know?” Passenger on British Midland Flight 92 reflecting on hearing the pilot announce he was shutting down the right engine.

The Facts

On 8 January 1989, a Boeing 737–400 crashed just short of the runway near Kegworth in the UK. 47 people were killed and 74 received serious injuries out of 126 on board.

Shortly after taking off and passing through 28,300 feet, en route to a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, a blade detached from the turboprop in the left engine. It resulted in a jolt and a bang. This was followed by a pounding noise, vibration, and smoke coming into the cabin. Several passengers near the rear of the plane noted smoke and sparks coming out of the left engine.

For various reasons discussed, the pilot shut down the plane’s right engine; the wrong engine. The vibration and smoke decreased and they descended to make an emergency landing at East Midland Airport. Just short of the runway, the vibration and smoke returned as power was increased to the left engine for landing and that engine ceased operating. The crew attempted to restart the right engine using airflow, but because they were getting ready to land, the plane was flying too slow and too low for this to work.

The plane crashed a quarter mile from the edge of the runway.

In the book, Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure, I list the six Cascade reasons why this Catastrophe occurred. Equipment failure, upgrades, inadequate training, failure to properly read instruments and follow protocol, all played a role. But the most important Cascade we have to focus on is the one that involves us. Our participation in the catastrophe. Despite what they saw, not a single person in the back of the plane informed the cockpit crew about what they saw. Not the passengers. Not the cabin crew.

This is the danger of trusting experts past the barrier of our common sense. We’ve all experienced this on a non-catastrophe level. You have a repairman in your house working on something. He doesn’t quite seem to know what he’s doing. And what he’s doing doesn’t make sense. And we don’t say anything, and then . . .

But at the level we’re talking about here, it’s life and death. While the actual threat is very small, people are very concerned about terrorism and active shooters. Yet both of those can often be stopped by observant people who notify authorities. I know in today’s politically correct age, some of us feel reticent to report things, but the costs have to be weighed.

Yeah, I know I’m paranoid. But that’s because people have been out to get me. And I look perfectly sane compared to my wife. She is always projecting ahead, anticipating trouble. The thing is: she’s right often enough for it to be valuable. And, she has a reason for her worries. She won’t drive, or let me drive, next to an 18-wheeler. Accelerate past it. Fast. Don’t follow right behind that pick-up with the one cord tying down all that furniture in the back. Don’t assume the person at the door is legit. When the flame comes out of the left engine and the pilot says he’s turning off the right, have a fit!

Originally published at on February 14, 2016.

West Point grad; Special Ops Vet; NY Times bestseller of over 80 books; for free books and over 200 free downloadable slideshows go to

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